As Mr. Dershowitz observes, a jurisprudence develops slowly in response to generations, centuries of adjudicated events. But to the extent we recognize the need for it and start thinking systematically, to that extent we won't be completely held hostage to the whim and discretion of a few men at moments of extreme stress.Obviously Dershowitz book is not intended to settle these questions, but that's okay, I like where his head's at.
At the minimum, an early effort at a jurisprudence of prevention would at least help in defining events. Consider the long and fruitless recent debate about the imminence of the danger from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or the current debate on Iran's possible nuclear weapons. Under traditional international law standards they are both classic non-imminent threat situations: "early stage acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by a state presumed to be hostile."
But as Mr. Dershowitz points out, while the threat itself is not imminent, "the opportunity to prevent the threat will soon pass." Once they have the weapons it is too late.
Or, a low price in innocent casualties might soon pass. For instance, in 1981 when Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear site at Osirak, if it had waited much longer the site would have been "radioactively hot" and massive innocent civilian casualties would have been incurred from radioactive releases. It is simply not enough anymore to say a country violates the norm by acting in its ultimate, but not imminent, self-defense. We need new standards for a new age.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Getting Past the Screaming
It sounds like Alan Dershowitz's new book is an honest attempt from a loud voice on the left to start dealing with the questions of the legal issues of fighting the war on Islamic terrorism:
Posted by Tom at 9:31 AM